Tod Browning, the king of freaky cinema before Tim Burton was a glint in his father’s eye, gives us a precursor to his later film Freaks in that it also features a circus performer, although this one has a few secrets up his, well, sleeves. The film is The Unknown, and it stars Lon Chaney as Alonzo the Armless, who performs parlor tricks with his feet with the help of his beautiful assistant Nanon.
Chaney may be the star and command most of the attention, but Browning’s unique style of story really frames the action here. Browning uses a lot of dialogue cards with this one; he really seems handicapped without the sound of regular dialogue, which will become fortunate for him when sound does come along. Lon Chaney has such an expressively grizzled face; it is truly a magical thing to watch him emote throughout the film. Chaney’s performance is something golden, and is completely worth the admission. Also in the film is none other than Joan Crawford as Nanon, a rare silent performance from her found in the book.
This was an enjoyable tale, made stronger thanks to Lon Chaney’s impressive performance. And at under an hour, you’ve got nothing to lose watching this one. Give it a chance and I think you’ll find it quite enjoyable, as long as you’re into great silent performances.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10